1800s: Smiling Victorians Chris June 15, 2010 1800-1899, People 45 CommentsFavourited 1629 times Add to favourites 45 Responses VonsterVon June 15, 2010 fantastic…the little boy with the horse is just so sweet! nice to see some warmth…it’s true, so many victorian images are cold and seem to lack any kind feelings at all…but these show us other wise. Reply Biggles June 15, 2010 I sometimes wonder just how much those stern, emotionless pictures have distorted our collective view of the past. Could they perhaps have contributed to much of the 20th century desire to break all ties with history and insist that ours are better, happier times? Not saying that they aren’t, but could part of the idealisation of the 60s be because it was the first period to usher in a glut of pictures of people actually enjoying themselves, and in colour! As an aside, it’s not just photography that may be to blame, paintings require a far longer sitting period and Leonardo is universally praised for being able to effectively capture a smile with his brushwork. Reply Phil June 15, 2010 They might not be in colour, but we have lots of family photos of people enjoying themselves between the wars. Reply Donald June 15, 2010 There’s always something good on here! Reply La Chat Noir June 15, 2010 Absolutely wonderful! A rare and fabulous find, thank you Reply Jolisa June 15, 2010 Any chance of turning these gorgeous photographs into a book? I would buy it! Biggles, I think you’re onto something. Something about a smiling face breaks the time barrier. Reply sara June 15, 2010 Wow. My family has tons of pictures from that time and they all look like they are waiting to be stuffed. It wasn’t until about 1920 or so that they start acting more natural. Coincidentally that was when they had their own camera and pictures were no longer formal posed portraits taken at studios. No one smiled for the painted portraits either. I think they thought it made them look silly and we think it makes them look like they are alive. Perspective. Reply barbara June 16, 2010 Oh, this is wonderful! Mr. Biggles, your first sentence is a very thought-provoking one and not without merit. However, there are many examples of happy, laughing people taken prior to the 1960′s (good heavens, you must be very young!)but your point is well-taken. The typical image of a Victorian is a dour, rigid, somewhat prim one (unless, of course, one were to actually crack open a book written in that time and then, well, so much for the accuracy of photography, but I digress.) While each photo is a delight, I particularly love the second one. Look how serious the couple seems in the first shot (very much like the majority of portraits you see of that time) and then he just can’t resist himself and starts to grab her and you can almost hear her giggling, can’t you? Thank you for another amazing glimpse into the past. Reply Mike June 16, 2010 Nice to see an alternative view of the stereotype. Enjoyable photos and comments too. Good one! Reply Mosstains June 16, 2010 Judging by the dates (and the fashions on the undated ones) these are mostly Edwardian, not Victorian. Reply Banjo Lawson June 16, 2010 A very pleasant change from the usual dour visages of our ancestors. Thanks Reply Simon June 16, 2010 Biggles – quite so. At the heart of being a Retronaut is the realisation that our collective view of the past is false. Even the word “past” is false. No-one has ever lived in the “past” nor will they. Everyone has lived in “now”, just as we live “now”. It is of course true that our technology changes, and that includes the intellectual frameworks we use to operate in. At the same time, the experience of being alive as a person remains almost exactly constant. To the degree that we see the people who have lived before us as different to us, to that degree is our view of time distorted. “The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.” - GM Trevelyan Reply Snif June 18, 2010 I always have to remind myself that no matter how modern things seem to be in this day and age, in ten years time they will seem quaint, and in 20 will be ancient history (and after 21 will be revived selectively in a fit of fashionable nostalgia) Reply Katie Honey June 25, 2010 I love that Trevelyan quote. For some reason these photos remind me of facebook photos, but of Victorians… It certainly narrows the gap between us and people like us who happened to be born at a different time Reply Scott July 4, 2010 Fascinating collection here and on Flickr, but there seems to be a rather surprising omission – Queen Victoria herself! (see http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/3426933/Hulton-Archive?language=en-GB&location=GBR ) Reply Timothy May 17, 2011 It’s interesting to see the origons of the unsmiling victorian image. Perhaps other perceptions of the past we have are founded the same way? Maybe the reason we think that they ‘built stuff to last’ in the past is really because only the stuff that was built to last lasted? Reply Stacey May 25, 2011 These are charming! Reply Mike Maynard June 19, 2011 Great pictures, I have some just like these and they carry you back to a forgotten era. Reply Kent June 22, 2011 What an amazing and inspiring collection. These people were just as goofy and fun-loving as anyone alive today! The boy with the toy horse is heart-breakingly beautiful, as is the woman collapsing into her husband’s arms with embarrassed laughter. This is very deep stuff, utterly beyond words. Thanks for putting this out there. Reply Bas June 26, 2011 The four pictures of the couple are just adorable. They start out so formal, and suddenly they are in each others arms, laughing. That is so cute. Reply Delphine June 27, 2011 The little boy is precious, but the couple at the end is just too adorable for words. What a neat resource, thanks! Reply Rita June 27, 2011 I loved the pictures at the end. Just like photobooth pictures today, where you see the progression of the interaction. It does show that people are the same, whatever time period they live in. I also love the little boy, such a cute pic. Reply Danielle Thorne July 3, 2011 These are awesome! Reply CatM August 15, 2011 These are so charming! I love the couple cracking up at the end. Did they have photo booths back then?? Reply davidabl August 21, 2011 Without really doing my homework, I’m pretty sure than the Eastman Kodak “brownie” roll film camera was on the scene by the mid 1880′s and that exposure times were already at fractions of a second, at least in strong light. This is the only possible for some of the pictures posted..esp the pics of the couple goofing around in the studio..There’s only slight blur in the shots where they’re moving, consistent with about 1/10 second exposure or faster, in my experience. Reply NicktheLick September 10, 2011 The last pics with the couple are just… beautiful! Reply Phil Woodford September 21, 2011 I reckon the smiles have been added in Photoshop. Reply Mathilde di Bianca September 21, 2011 Wonderful series of victorian smiles ! They have so natural and casual attitudes Usually we saw serious and almost stern portraits of people of the victorian age, but they lived and had fun too ! Reply Audra Hedger October 7, 2011 The couple at the end was wonderful! Just when you think you can’t see yet another couple who looks stiff and cold toward each other, they crack up and show how they feel about one another. Absolutely wonderful. Reply ASprak October 18, 2011 That just goes to show you how much we allow ourselves to be guided by the way people look in old photos. Stern looks may just have a technical reason. Thanks for enlightening me. Reply Lucas November 13, 2011 These are great photos! It makes such a difference to see people smiling in photos from this era. This is such a great website – so glad I found it Reply Jmo December 6, 2011 These photographs look like pictures of… people! Actual people with recognizable emotions and whatnot! Really amazing to see! I have heard it said that part of the reason smiles were not often portrayed until relatively recently was because lack of dental care made for some bad-looking teeth. My mother has an album full of photos from the 1920s of our rural Tenessee relatives. All are in front of pretty rough-looking buildings, all the men have on a suit jacket over pretty worn out clothes such as patched overalls, etc. No-one is smiling. I always figured that it was becasue they were shy about their missing teeth. Reply Jacqui December 29, 2011 I love the last couple, how sweet! Reply Jake February 12, 2012 Check your sources again. No-one until the mid 20th century speculated that the lack of smiles in early photographs was due to exposure time. The actual reason is alluded to in several letters from the era of no smiles, (1600s – 1940s-ish.) If exposure time were the culprit there would have been portrait paintings of smiling people. The real reason? It was considered flippant, almost disrespectful to portray a smile in paintings and photos. Reply Jennifer February 19, 2012 I love the last the last four of the couple. The progression from the stern face we expect to the playful cuddling really challenges what we are taught of the victorians as people. And it’s simply very sweet. A wonderful collection. Reply JontheVicar February 21, 2012 I am quite madly in love with the young lady in, I think, the 5th photograph down. Stunning, and very modern! Reply old hippie March 6, 2012 Simply looking at the background says that 3 second exposures can’t be correct. I’ve dabbled in photography for decades and most of these photo’s have less than 1 second to them. Many of then far less. Reply Lucra April 3, 2012 The very first pic of Grandpa Mitch looks like Sean Penn! Reply Tasha April 19, 2012 These are excellent. I have old photos in the family of ancestors around this time and no-one smiles back then. I don’t think I have ever seen a photograph of anyone smiling in that era. I wonder when photographers decided that people should smile instead of looking serious. It’s nice to see that life must have had its funny side even back then. Reply Fowley May 23, 2012 This is wonderful, breaks down so many barriers between the past and the present – so life affirming! Reply Maurice Fleury May 29, 2012 Incredible pictures a myth has fallen down… I though the word “smile” didn’t exist in the Victorian Core-rules book… Reply jen June 24, 2012 Was it Queen Victoria who said ‘life is to be endured not enjoyed’? I think a lot of people in those days would have had decayed teeth,so maybe its the photographer who tells them not to smile..These lovely photos are the only ones ive seen with smiley faces..lovely Reply 1920s May 10, 2014 Many of these photos are from the Edwardian era, not from the Victorian era. Reply Chris May 11, 2014 Yes, and the people in the pictures are almost all Victorians i.e. born before 1901 Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published. Name* Email* Website Comment Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.